First Malaysian Playboy bunny and model Felixia Yeap’s decision to don the hijab (Muslim headgear) despite being a non-Muslim has shocked many, with some fans berating her and labelling it as a "publicity stunt".
The 27-year-old Ipoh beauty, who has been modelling since she was 19, however, remained unperturbed by all the scepticism and criticism that she had been receiving since she started donning the hijab a few months ago.
“They say I did this to find a rich Malay Datuk to marry. If I wanted to find a rich man, I would have done it a long time ago when I was still actively modelling in sexy poses. Their criticisms defy logic. All I wanted to do was to cover up more and do more decent modelling,” she told The Malaysian Insider.
Explaining her action further, Yeap said while it had come as a surprise to her fans, her love for Muslim attire had started a long time ago when she was still in school.
Yeap's action had been criticised by Muslims as well as non-Muslims who said she was being "disrespectful" towards Islam for wearing a hijab.
They said before donning the hijab, she should have removed the pictures of her in a Playboy bunny outfit and also others which showed her in sexy poses and revealing attire.
Some of her over 148,000 fans on Facebook and her blog had criticised her action as a publicity stunt to gain more popularity and fame. Some even left her social media site after that.
Yeap, who is still receiving invitations to appear at Playboy events and functions all over the world despite ending her career as a bunny in 2010, defended her action.
“I had always wanted to wear the hijab but I only got the chance to try it this year when I went for a casting call in a Celcom television commercial for the Hari Raya celebration.
"It was a blue hijab and I fell in love with it. Then, I had another chance to wear the hijab again when I was hired as a model for a Muslim boutique in a fashion show during the Hari Raya season,” she said.
During her interview with The Malaysian Insider, Yeap, who is not married, looked composed and pretty in a pink hijab.
She said although some Muslims had criticised her, most of the negative comments had come from non-Muslims.
She said she had always loved baju kurung and Malay-Muslim traditions.
Yeap, a former kindergarten teacher, started her career in modelling in 2005 when she entered the Dewi Remaja contest organised by a magazine and became one of its finalists.
She then joined many beauty pageants and at the peak of her career, she was invited to be a Playboy bunny and worked at its club in Macau.
But her career at the club only lasted a month as Yeap decided to return home to pursue her modelling career.
“There was no intention of working there for a long time. Yes, it was fun and I learnt many things but modelling is where my heart is, not working at the club,” said Yeap.
On the negative perception towards her for donning the hijab, Yeap said she did not blame the fans for being "confused" with her action.
“I won't blame them. People who don't know me, do not read what I write, will get confused.
"My past photoshoots and modelling gigs which I have on my Facebook and blog, those are my achievements.
"I want people to know, if I can stop being sexy, cover myself up, be a better person, a respected woman, why can't they understand the story and moral behind it? Let it be a story to inspire people,” said Yeap.
She said she feels better when she covers herself up.
“People are not looking at you because of the size of your breasts or your body shape, instead, people look at you because of your intelligence and your character.
"I don't deny that I had cried after several modelling jobs recently. I love to cover myself up, so when I have to give in to the demands of my work which required me to be sexy, I felt exploited,” she said.
Yeap stressed that she only had good intentions in donning the hijab and being in a multiracial country, she is aware of the religious sensitivity surrounding the issue.
“I am not doing this to be disrespectful. I am doing this with a lot of sincerity and good intentions.
"I admit that I am a free-thinker. What I have to say is, if someone is trying to learn something and you keep pushing them away, they are going to run away. They will ask why are they being forced away from something that they are trying to learn,” said Yeap.
She also said that if a religion could show her the beauty of life and living, people should try to understand her action.
“People are attracted to beautiful things. So do I. And if a religion could show me the beauty of life, why should I resist just because a few confused racists and extremists try to twist things around?
"Are they righteous enough, or consider themselves greater, to judge another human being? Well... unless they are God. But based on how they curse, insult and behave... I don't think so,” she said, adding that she felt sorry for these people.
She said despite all the criticisms, she is happy to be able to inspire people and remind them of their religions.
She also accepts the views of those who think she is weird for wearing a hijab.
“If people think I am weird to be a non-Muslim model covering myself up, so be it,” said Yeap.
On her family's acceptance, Yeap said her mother was very supportive. "She even say I looked good with the hijab."
On her sexy modelling gigs, Yeap said she is completing her remaining commitments which she had agreed to before she decided to wear the hijab.
“This month would be my last assignments. I have to make several appearances for Playboy Bunny International. Many failed to understand that this is a work commitment and I am a professional model. I have to complete the job by hook or by crook. Even if I want to leave something I want to leave it with pride."
What would be her New Year resolution? Yeap said she is going to be selective in her modelling gigs.
Asked if she would be wearing the hijab permanently, Yeap said she is slowly learning to be a better person.
“I want to be a better person, a better woman. The year 2014 will be the beginning of something beautiful,” said Yeap.
Yeap had been featured in the local and foreign FHM magazines before she was hired as a Playboy bunny.
Before that, she had participated in a television reality show called "I Wanna Be a Model" and was among the finalists in season three of the show.
She was also the first runner-up for Miss Chinese World Malaysia 2006 and the finalist for Dewi Remaja Malaysia. - December 14, 2013.